SR #19: “It’s Twins!”

sr19-0We’ve covered a great deal of ground in the last four weeks. (Writing a series of posts this long is a new experience for me! I hope you’re getting something out of it, too.) We’ve learned that motion, velocity, simultaneity, and length, are all relative to your frame of reference — motion changes your perception of these things. This week we’ll see that time is also relative — motion changes that, too!

So far, we only needed a (very imaginary) train to demonstrate the effects of Special Relativity. An Earthly frame of reference was enough to illustrate how motion affects velocity, simultaneity, and length.

But when it comes to time, we’re gonna need spaceships!

cosmic raysThere are places on Earth where relativity affects time. On the Earth’s surface, we detect muons¹ created by cosmic ray collisions in the upper atmosphere.

The problem is that the muons decay into other particles so quickly they should only fly about 450 meters (on average) before decaying.

But due to the energy of the collision, muons fly so fast that their clocks run slower (from our point of view). This gives them time to reach the Earth’s surface.

From the muons’ point of view, their clocks run normally, and it’s the Earth’s atmosphere that rushes past them. Therefore, they see the distance shortened (just as Em saw the “moving” train tunnel shortened). From their point of view, they reach the ground because it’s not that far to go.

Which is fascinating, but who knows from muons?²


No, not The Twins.⁴

Besides, what’s more interesting than spaceships and twins?

For the week, our friends Al and Em will be playing the roles of twins.³

As always, Em is the traveler (she flies the spaceship), while Al stands his ground on the ground (he has Theories to work on).

The premise is this: Em flies the spaceship away from Earth to a distance of six light years. We’ll assume there’s a planet there (let’s call it Noether) where Em hangs out for three years. Then she flies back to Earth, to reunite with twin Al.

The time-space diagram looks like this:


Diagram 1. Al watches Em take a spaceship ride.

This diagram packs a number of important features into one image. Also, notice that our diagram scale is very different here. Each spatial (horizontal) unit is now a light-year. That makes each time (vertical) unit a year.

On the left is stay-at-home Al. (Remember the stick figures are just to help keep straight who’s on what side. Al’s actual position is the vertical world line on the left edge of the diagram.) Once Em leaves (lower left corner), Al hangs out for 27 years (doing Theory stuff).

Planet Noether

Planet Noether

Meanwhile, Em flies off to planet Noether, which is six light-years away. She flies at 1/2 c — half the speed of light (we can also write c/2).

That means it takes Em’s ship — from Al’s point of view12 years to make the one-way trip (0.5 c × 6 LY = 12 Y).

Yet it turns out that, from Em’s point of view, it takes her 10.4 years in the ship (we’ll see why later; for now, take it as given).

Therefore, Al claims that time is running more slowly for Em. He has aged 12 years while she has aged only 10.4 years.

Before we continue, let’s take a look at the situation from Em’s point of view:


Diagram 2. Em watches Al (and the Earth) fly away, pause, and return.

She claims she’s standing still while Al, the Earth, and space (!), move past her. And, of course, she thinks her clock is running perfectly normally (and to her, it is).

However, since she sees space moving past at c/2, she sees space foreshortened (just like the muons did). To her, the 6 LY distance the Earth flies seems to be only 5.2 LY.

Simple Math!

Simple Math!

When the planet Noether (which has been traveling along with space) reaches Em, her clock says she’s aged 10.4 years. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to her that the Earth — moving at half the speed of light — flies 5.2 LY (simple math: 10.4 ÷ 2 = 5.2).

What surprises her (unless she knows about SR) is to see Al’s clock on Earth showing it only took him 9 years to make the journey, not the 10.4 years Em has been sitting in the spaceship.

From Em’s point of view, time for Al seems to be running slowly! Em sees him age only 9 years to her 10.4 years.

Once again, relativity requires a symmetry between observers in constant motion. We’ll explore that symmetry in detail next time. The thing is, Em isn’t in constant motion. Once she reaches Noether, she stops (for three years). Then she turns around and returns to Earth.


Game Changer!

Both stopping and beginning the return trip are changes of velocity. Remember the diagrams from Dueling Diagrams?

While there is always a symmetry of time and distance with motion, if one party changes their speed or direction, that breaks the perfect symmetry of both points of view being valid.

As mentioned on day two: once acceleration enters the picture, you know whether you’re moving or not. So once Em stops at Noether, the symmetry of mutual ignorance is broken, and both observers realize Em was the moving party.


Spacial Discontinuity!

Another strange thing Em encounters trying to imagine she’s not moving is that when space stops “moving” it’s no longer foreshortened.

If Al appears to have traveled 5.2 LY, when he “stops” he is suddenly 6 LY away because with zero speed, zero foreshortening.

So, once she stops, the jig is up.

I haven’t yet touched on the journey back, and I generally won’t spend as much detail on it as I do on the outbound journey. The two legs of the trip are really mirror images of each other, so what’s said about one applies to the other (albeit usually in reverse). Suffice for now to say the return trip also takes 10.4 years on Em’s clock and 12 on Al’s.


“How was the trip?”

There is also the matter of the two laser flashes depicted on the diagrams above. The story is: At his six-year mark (event A) Al sends a message to Em. He knows it takes light six years to make the trip to Noether, so his message should get there (event B) at his twelve-year mark.

Which is just when he predicts Em should arrive (based on her speed of half the speed of light). His message might ask, “How was the trip?”

(Em’s reply, of course, takes six years to get back to Al, so he doesn’t get a reply to his question until his year 18.)


“On my way back!”

Three years later, when she’s about to leave on her return trip, Em sends a message to Al (event C) — possibly, “I’m on my way.” That message also takes six years to make the journey. For now, we’ll just note that Al receives it at his 21-year mark (event D).

I’ll get into more details this week. I’ll also get into the importance of those two gray triangles in diagram 1. They’re important for understanding what happens, and instrumental once I get to the possibility of FTL.

To end today, if you haven’t already done the math, let’s compare Al and Em’s ages. Al hung around on Earth for 27 years. Em took two 10.4-year spaceship flights. And she hung around on Noether for three years. That’s 10.4 + 10.4 + 3 = 23.8.

Em is now 3.2 years younger than her twin, Al!

Stay tuned for details!

moon shadow[1] About 10,000 per minute per square meter! The Moon creates a muon shadow as it blocks the interstellar sky.

[2] For the record: Muons are second-family cousins to the common electron. As with all second- or third-family particles, they’re too massive to hang around long. Muons normally decay in two microseconds or so.

[3] In point of fact, they were born only three years apart, both in March. Completely different families, of course, but it was all well over 100 years ago, so close enough for our purposes.

[4] I’m not ready to talk about them, yet. 😔

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

51 responses to “SR #19: “It’s Twins!”

  • reocochran

    This was very unique post, which did seem to help explain a few things but may need to read it when not worn out, smiles! I am hoping you are enjoying baseball and wondered if you had seen “Interstellar?” My family rented it and liked it better than “Gravity.” will check back soon…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The Twins continue to lose, lose, lose, so baseball isn’t all that much fun so far. Well, baseball is, but watching the Twins isn’t. It is great that baseball is back! 🙂

      Haven’t seen Interstellar, but nothing I’ve seen or heard much commends to movie to me. I’ll have pretty low expectations by the time I do see it (when it comes around on HBO or whoever). Should be soon; it’s already on Pay Per View.

      Christopher Nolan’s movies have gotten so big that I think someone (him or the studio or his producer or someone) is pulling him mainstream. I really like his older stuff, but the more recent films haven’t done much for me. I thought Memento was awesome, and I really liked The Prestige. Insomnia was pretty good. But I thought Man of Steel was dreadful, and I wasn’t big on his last Batman movie. Transcendence was okay — more like Nolan used to be kinda — smaller in scope.

      Unfortunately, I’m disappointed by what I already know about the movie, so it already has major counts against it, and I haven’t even seen it yet. 😦

    • reocochran

      I just rewatched “Memento’ again this weekend, without seeing your comments. It is really a complicated movie, mystery and worrisome since I do wonder if the character hurt his own wife? I enjoyed, “The Prestige,” and the magic in it, along with character development, too. I like “Insomnia” but it was a little depressing, I guess that I would tell you that my brothers and I liked, “Interstellar,” since it is complicated and it does have a future world, which is believable, with little life and just crops to grow, dry storms and some futility on Earth. I guess this helps that we don’t listen nor read reviews.

      If you ever watch it, let me know about what you felt about the actual travel through the black hole, we felt it was rather realistic. I felt Matthew M. was much better at acting in this, and his second or third best movie of all time. I liked his first one, as a young lawyer defending a black man (Samuel Jackson) , then I liked his movie, “Dallas Buyers Club” and then, this one, “Interstellar.” His emotions seem ‘real’ in this one. Sorry about the Twins, W.S. take care! Can you root for another team?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, I’ll definitely watch Interstellar when it comes around on HBO or whoever gets it first. It’s too big of an SF film not to watch. I’m just not expecting much. 😦

        I suppose I could root for the Dodgers, or even Angels, having lived in Los Angeles. Or I could return to my roots and root for the Yankees or Mets. But I hate the Yankees, and the Mets aren’t any better than the Twins generally. (They might be something this year.) Twins are the worst time in baseball right now!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I’m enjoying the series and appreciate the work you’re putting into it. I do have to admit though to skimming the last few posts before this one. The amount of detail is slightly overloading my capacity for it.

    On this post, I understand what you’re trying to convey with the phrase “space moving past,” but it feels like there’s something wrong with it, like maybe it’s implying that there’s a privileged frame of reference where space doesn’t move past. Maybe a better phrase would have been “the universe moving past.”

    BTW, I came up with a twin paradox that doesn’t involve acceleration, deceleration, or changing frames (it actually involves three actors but two frames). I’ll keep it trying to solve it myself until you get to that point. If I haven’t solved it by then, I may share it with you to see where I’m going wrong.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, it’s really hard to know what level of detail to include. I see this big picture with lots of interconnecting pieces, and it’s hard to know how to communicate that picture effectively. What pieces must be included, what pieces aren’t that important. I’m afraid these posts here are a bit of a first draft, so to speak. I’m writing them as I go along (blog style!), and no doubt some heavy editing would be appropriate.

      Finding the right balance is audience-specific, and I’m trying to write for an audience with no background in this but also keep it interesting for those with more background. (If you skimmed the train stuff last week, I’m obviously not getting that balance right, yet. I did wonder if Thursday’s post was a bit redundant. Friday’s was very full, and I think maybe if I re-worked Wednesday to include the important parts of Thursday and split Friday between it and Thursday, that might be better. [shrug])

      Funny thing about “space moving past”… I originally went with “universe” but thought it sounded too grandiose. “Space” is the correct word technically. From Em’s point of view, local space is moving past her. Which certainly implies the whole universe, but all we’re really saying here is that Em sees her local space moving past (just as one sees the countryside moving past from a train). Being at rest with respect to local space isn’t anything special. It just means you’re not moving.

      Interesting the value of discussion, though! Until thinking more about it typing this comment I didn’t realize that “universe” doesn’t really fit the bill. How can you say you’re at rest with respect to the universe? That would be a privileged frame! Likewise, there’s no real way to say you’re moving with respect to the universe (or vice versa). What’s the reference point? Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Local Group,… lotta moving parts in the neighborhood!

      About the best you can say is that (from Em’s point of view), “Earth is moving away from me, and Noether is moving towards me. I assume the fabric of local space must be moving, because I’m sure not!” Same assumption you’d make looking out a train window!

      Funny you would talk about acceleration. I have a “tweener” post with techy details about why we can ignore Em accelerating or decelerating. I’ll look forward to your thought experiment! 🙂

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I feel where you’re at Wyrd. Similar to our Egan discussion, I think how much detail to go into is very much a subjective thing. I typically try to write to the detail I’d like to see if I were reading it (taking into account people’s tolerance for detail is more limited for online reading), but I fully realize that some will want more and other less. Just because I ended up skimming doesn’t mean some of your other readers aren’t lapping up every detail.

        On the “space” thing, it’s a tough concept to describe. Brian Greene wrote in one of his books that sometimes to get a difficult concept across, you have to first describe it inaccurately, then clean up afterward.

        Actually, I think I’ll share my scenario with you now. Don’t worry about answering until later (or ever if you don’t want to bother), but if the solution (or error) is obvious to you, I’d appreciate being set straight.

        Here it is:
        Al is in a spaceship deep in an intergalactic void, with no line of sight of any stars or galaxies to gauge his speed. Max is in another spaceship 6 light days away. Their velocities are zero relative to each other.

        Em is in a third spaceship moving at .87c relative to Al’s and Max’s ships (giving a gamma of about 0.5). Em is on a course that will bring her first near Al and then near Max.

        When Em passes Al, they communicate (via radio) and synchronize timestamp=0 days. Al immediately sends a message to Max asking Max to exchange timestamps with Em when she passes by.

        From Al’s and Max’s perspective, Al’s message takes 6 days (traveling at c) to reach Max. Em passes by Max 6.9 days after she passes Al (6 light days / .87 light days per day). Max’s timestamp when Em passes by should be 6.9. He would expect Em’s timestamp to be 3.45 (6.9 * 0.5 gamma).

        But from Em’s perspective, it is Al and Max who are moving at .87c, and they are 3 light days apart (6 light days * .5 gamma). 3.45 days will pass between Al passing by and Max passing by. But what should Em expect Max’s timestamps to be? Shouldn’t she expect Max’s timestamp to be at 1.725 days (3.45 days * .5 gamma) when Max passes by? How do we avoid infinite recursion here?

        So, what timestamp does Max receive from Em? What timestamp does Em receive from Max?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        ” I typically try to write to the detail I’d like to see if I were reading it…”

        Same here, although that’s actually one of the problems. I love detail and precision; I love reading authors who practice it. That makes it hard for me to judge how much others appreciate it. I do throw a lot of stuff out as being “too detailed” so you can just imagine! 🙂

        At this point I’m leaning towards “space” over “universe” but I’ll leave the matter open if anyone else wants to chime in.

        “Em is in a third spaceship moving at .87c relative to Al’s and Max’s ships (giving a gamma of about 0.5). Em is on a course that will bring her first near Al and then near Max.”

        You would pick a speed that’s a real pain to draw on graph paper! 😛

        I’ll have to run the numbers and draw some careful diagrams, so I’ll get back to you with a precise answer on this, but some observations:

        In your scenario, in the Al+Max frame of reference, when Em passes Max we can see that her clock has to read 3.45 and Max’s has to read 6.9. That’s an established fact that doesn’t change because we switch view points.

        When (motionless) Em sees Max pass her, their exchange of timestamps is established fact, so the trick is accounting for how Max passing her can have a clock that reads 6.9.

        There are two key things here. First, we can set an origin point at where Em and Al cross paths. But since Em is moving with respect to Al+Max, and since Al and Max are separated in space, simultaneous events between them are not simultaneous to Em. Second, at 0.87 c the rotation of the lines of simultaneity is pretty extreme — close to 45%.

        On a TS diagram, that puts Max very “far away” from the origin event of Em and Al crossing. Despite the apparently closer distance of 3 LY, Max’s world line is still very long reaching Em. Even a rough diagram shows he has to receive Al’s message prior to crossing Em’s path. We know that happens for him at his 6.0 and then he crosses paths with Em.

        The geometry of a rough TS diagram shows that the laser message reaches Max just before he crosses paths with Em. Exactly what we saw in the Al+Max frame.

        The answer is that Em and Max always exchange the respective timestamps “3.45” and “6.9” — but Em still sees Al’s and Max’s clocks running slower even with the foreshortening of space. This becomes clear on the diagram (hence their value — like Feynman diagrams, they’re not just illustrative, they’re actual “calculation” tools).

        If you take the Simultaneous Lighting example, or the Too Short Tunnel example, and re-work them for your scenario — making the lightning or tunnel mouths Al and Max — you should see how it all fits together. They are all basically the same example!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks Wyrd! I think the actual speed and gamma can be changed and it doesn’t effect the thought experiment. I actually figured it out just before reading your comment (no, really). I did it by printing someone else’s spacetime diagram and adding Max to it, and then adding Em’s simultaneity lines all the way through. And it came out pretty much like you said.

        The number Max receives from Al has him project Al and Em’s encounter 6 days back on his timeline, to a point that would be simultaneous for Max and Al. But on Em’s timeline, that point happens *before* her encounter with Al.

        Mind blown, but I think I finally understand why the twin paradox isn’t a paradox. I also have a headache now :-p

      • Wyrd Smythe

        By George, I think he’s got it! XD

        Try drawing it from Em’s perspective (where her path is a vertical line). That will really give you a headache! o_O

        You’re right, changing the speed (and therefore gamma) doesn’t really change anything other than the actual numbers. Looking at your diagram, I’m guessing it’s for 0.5 or 0.6 c? The slant looks awfully familiar! 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I think I’ll pass on drawing Em’s perspective, at least this afternoon. 🙂

        The original chart belonged to Michael Huemer (I should have noted that in the initial comment).

        I think you’re right about him using 0.5 c.

        Thanks again!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I had a chance to browse over Mr. Huemer’s paper. Nice piece of work! (Needs better diagrams. >:D )

        He does mention using 0.5 c. When working with graph paper and pen, it makes the diagrams easy to fool around with — the angle at c/2 is 2:1 — two squares up for every square over. That’s for the world line. The simultaneity line is the inverse angle, so also easy to draw, it’s 1:2. If you then do things at intervals of 6 or 12, you end up with a lot of your coordinates being dead on the corners. Coordinates like, (2.0, 4.0) and such.

        Half light just makes doodling and trying things a lot easier.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        My scenario was quite diagramming naive. It was aimed at easy gamma calculating. For further contemplation, I agree that sticking to 0.5 c is better.

        I think I am going to have to draw it from Em’s scenario. It’s bothering me that I privileged Al’s and Max’s frame by describing it first. What if I had started with Em’s frame? Hopefully the answer will be in the diagram.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ll let you have the joy of discovery, but if you get bored, frustrated, or lazy, I did program a couple of simple diagrams for your scenario at 0.87 c. They turned out exactly as SR says they should. You’ll find drawing Em’s frame of reference takes a bit more space. The Al+Max FOR was roughly 6×7. For Em’s FOR the space is more like 14×15.

        Whoa. Interesting how the bounding box is one unit taller in both cases. I wonder if that’s invariant? The box sizes are not proportional, obviously, but I wonder if there’s a fixed relationship between the sizes of diagrams of the two points of view? (I think I’m gonna have to be really bored before I go spelunking that question! 🙂 )

        p.s. You’ll know you got it right when the time interval between Em crossing As and Em crossing Max is 1/3 the time Em places Max’s (+6x, 0t) event into the past of Al’s (0x, 0t) event. (As a reference, on your drawing yesterday, given the lines of simultaneity you drew for Em, she meets Max four units after she meets Al. The drawing also places Max’s (+6x, 0t) event just over one unit in her past relative to meeting Al.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks. I shortened the distance between Al and Max to 3 light days (in their frame) and made the relative speed between them and Em 0.5 c, allowing me to draw it again on Huemer’s chart. It wasn’t quite to scale, but came out about right.

        One question. What determines the slope of simultaneity? (If I missed that in one of your posts, feel free to chastise me and point me to it.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s been mentioned as the inverse (or complement) of the angle of the world line. If, for example, 0.5 c means the world line’s slope is 2:1 (y=2x), then the simultaneity line’s slope is 1:2 (y=0.5x).

        The slope of simultaneity for 0.87 c is, easily enough, 0.87x! (It’s the slope of the world line that’s actually the inverse: 1.15. The world line is always steeper, obviously.)

        Doing it the complement way it’s (90 – angle) where “angle” is world line angle (rather than slope). You usually need trig to get the angle from the slope, though.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks! I’ll fully happy keeping trig out of this. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Aw, trig’s okay. I’ve had to use it a lot doing 3D modeling. It’s like a lot of things: Once you get past using it as a black box and see what’s going on, it becomes a lot friendlier.

        Although I just raised the topic with Tina about whether people have a “head for math” or not. I’m sure there’s some truth to that — especially for math geniuses — but I think some is social conditioning, too. I dunno. As usual, it’s hard to separate nature and nurture.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve always struggled with math pretty consistently my entire life. (Trig in particular gave me a lot of grief, both in high school and college.) And yet I’ve always been interested in what could be accomplished with it, and I’ve always been pretty good at logic. Go figure.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Tina said something similar in these very comments. My love of math came late in life, in part due to hobbies and aspects of my career that ended up using a fair amount of the stuff. At some point — as an adult — I became fascinated with the philosophy and theory of math. There’s that whole “eery effectiveness” thing about it plus the idea that reality could *be* math.

        Maybe one of these days I’ll try a “beauty of trig” post. That would be a good topic for Pi Day (or Tau Day). Pi and trig are old and dear friends.

  • Thandazani

    good day sir i see you very passionate about astrology which i believe it contains alot of humanities answer about life and god if you happen to know more about this subject i would love to learn more about it thank you.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Do you really mean “astrology” or were you thinking of astrophysics or astronomy? Astrology is woo-woo belief about how the stars supposedly affect our lives, and it’s total nonsense. It has no basis in reality whatsoever. Fortune cookies would be just as useful.

      But astrophysics and astronomy — totally different, totally cool and interesting, most definitely! I don’t write that often on those topics, but there are bloggers out there who do. One of the best is Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy site. And you can never go wrong with the Astronomy Picture of the Day!

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I’m in too deep here…at least you have smart guys like Mike to keep you company!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, no! You’re one of the people I’m writing for. How can I help? (Does it help any that today just introduced a topic I’ll be chewing on all week? Maybe things will get less deep as we go? There’s some important stuff coming in SR #21 that may help…

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Well don’t forget, I’m math illiterate. I don’t know that I’m your intended audience! I see those graphs and have flashbacks to my freshman year of college when I had to spend 5 hours a day with a math tutor to get through “Applications of Modern Math.” Also to all those times I had to take a standardized test and I’d just freeze up at the math section. I think I finished less than half of the math problems for the ACT. I was so stupefied at that point that I forgot to fill in the rest of the bubbles at random. So that’s where I’m at.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m hoping to delight, enthrall, and/or educate, all my regular readers with these posts, and you’re one of the, like, Five! (Although by ‘regular reader’ I actually mean regular commenter. That’s really the only way I have to judge, and I always award higher ranking to those who participate.)

        I wonder to what extent “math illiteracy” — innumeracy it’s sometimes called, but usually calling someone innumerate is as pejorative as calling them illiterate — is nature vs nurture.

        And there’s an interesting question how much math should be considered a “first language.” Being “illiterate” — not conversant with your first language — is something we tend to think shouldn’t ought to be. It’s “better” to be conversant with your first language (whatever it is) so you can communicate effectively with others of your society. There’s also the idea that the better command of language you have, the more effective and precise your own thinking is, since you have richer tools for thought.

        We’re more forgiving of second+ languages — we see them as optional. (Although it’s shameful USAnians usually don’t take that option — myself included. I “suck” at human languages.) We admire someone accomplished in many languages as we might admire an accomplished musician.

        So to the extent that math is a first language — vital for communication and thought — there is an applied sense of shame to innumeracy. To the extent math is a second language, there’s no real penalty (other than seeming USA-style provincial), but there is admiration (or whatever 🙂 )for experts. I think people fall at different points along this spectrum. (It’s actually a pretty good metaphor. Some folks become fluent, some learn just enough “pidgin math” to get by as needed, some keep math in a closed book in a taped-shut box on a locked closet shelf in a store room they hardly ever enter because the light bulb is burned out and the door sticks so you really have to push on it. Plus there are spiders. Big ones.)

        I fall into the group that thinks math is a first language, so that part wants to suggest you’ve just decided you “don’t do math” and have lived that belief ever since. Cause here’s the thing, Tina. I’ve known you and “talked” to you long enough to know you’re far more comfortable with logical thought and analysis than most people. Since that’s all math is, there’s a part of me that thinks you’d enjoy it for its beauty once you got past your belief.

        (Because it is awesomely beautiful — breath-taking, really — and it applies to damn near everything. There is a well-known math essay about the “eery effectiveness” of mathematics in how it applies to the world we exist in. Simple, elegant equations that describe basic aspects of reality. The philosophy of math is incredibly cool territory (as we’ve touched on a bit before — infinity, for e.g.)!

        So part of me wants to say, “Hey, come here and let me bend your ear for a while about the wonders of math. I’m sure you’ll get over your attitude about it and find it quite interesting.”

        But another part wonders if some just have a head for numbers and some don’t. I seem to have no head for human languages despite rather having wanted to learn Spanish and German. But it’s like in one ear out the other. I don’t seem capable of wrapping my head around whatever mental shift is necessary to speak another language. (OTOH, that last sentence makes it clear this is a belief I have about myself. True belief or not? [shrug])

        But, anyway, hopefully the conclusions and here’s what happens when you do this parts are interesting even if the how or why parts aren’t.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Jeeze… that went long! I’m usually extra-verbose when I first get up and haven’t broken my fast yet…

        (Yes, I do know what time it is. I’m retired, and I was up until after 4 AM, so I don’t see the problem.)

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I’ve always wanted to be good at math. Hell, I even took a math class at Marlboro when I didn’t have to. And physics (although I quickly dropped the latter after finding myself in the 5+ hours/day with a tutor scenario, without learning anything.) I don’t know what it is about it, but it just doesn’t click with me. I did really well in my math classes all throughout grade school, but that was because it was a matter of memorizing and vomiting forth, not real learning. Then the standardized tests would come along and I’d realize that I hadn’t learned anything.

        It’s kind of hard to know whether your self-perception is getting in the way or whether you really just don’t think that way. I did well in logic class and actually loved doing my homework, but I wonder if I would have felt the same way about it if it had been more advanced/symbolic logic? I have no idea.

        With languages, it could be a matter of the way you were taught. I had a great French teacher who wouldn’t let us speak English in class at all. You couldn’t sit there silently either…you spent most of the class talking and using vocab and grammar that you were supposed to have learned the night before. (And any problem that you missed on homework, you’d have to do again until you got it right. There was no way around doing homework, unless you wanted all your mistakes and missed lessons to just pile up.) The teacher pretended she couldn’t speak English and would pantomime and draw pictures and just spend a hell of a lot of time not speaking English. And of course, you had to do the same thing if you didn’t know a word. It was tedious, but if you have to spend a long time describing something, you remember that word next time. Back in the day, people would teach languages without really speaking it. I think nowadays language teachers know better. Even in my ancient Greek class, we’d go around the room saying things to each other: “Ti esti to onoma sou?” “To onoma mou Tina estin.” It sticks better that way. I kind of wish my ancient Greek class had been more like my French class, though. We did spend most of it speaking English and I don’t remember much at all.

        I took a Spanish class in HS, got the only 100% on the exam in that teacher’s history, but guess what? I don’t remember anything. We never spoke Spanish. All we did was grammar exercises and the whole class was taught in English. (Actually that’s not quite true. I remember this: “Hola, me llamo Laura. Me gusta tocar la guitara.” This I have running in my head in the same goofy voice I heard on an audio lesson. The woman in the recording spoke slowly and unnaturally, so I liked to mock her in class.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Then the standardized tests would come along and I’d realize that I hadn’t learned anything.”

        I wonder if this isn’t where it starts. Initial training in math that focuses on memorization (which is both boring and generally useless at educating). That sets up math as boring, opaque, and pointless.

        Most believe there’s also a a gender-related bias — a social pressure suggesting “girls aren’t good at math” — that may make math even less attractive or interesting to women. But “I’m not good at math” or “I don’t do math” is a common phrase that definitely crosses gender lines.

        “I’ve always wanted to be good at math.”

        Mike Smith reported much the same in the comments here. And you both seem to have minds one would think easily capable of doing math.

        On the other hand, I like to think I’m no dummy, but I find learning other (human) languages seemingly beyond me. And there are other areas where I don’t seem to have “what it takes” to excel (or even be very good). I gave up pursuing music due to a perception I wasn’t a “real musician.” That was crushing! (Skydiving is another I so regretfully gave up for similar perceptions. But I loved it and so wanted to be good at it. Another crushing blow to the ego. 😦 )

        On the other other hand, my early training in Spanish and German were like yours with math. Lot of rote memorization and no real understanding. I haven’t really tried to learn a language since (although a few dabblings did have poor results).

        Maybe if I’d really pursued music (or skydiving) I would have gotten better. Who can say. We’re born with a fair amount of hard-wiring, but I’m not clear on how much that has to affect you. People overcome their tendencies all the time.

        As you said:

        “It’s kind of hard to know whether your self-perception is getting in the way or whether you really just don’t think that way.”

        Yeah, exactly. And how much does really hard work with a good teacher affect whatever natural disinclination one might have?

        I do think the ability of the teacher and the way a subject is presented is crucial. (Heck, one reason I early on decided not to write a lot of science articles — such as the ones I’m writing now [sigh] — because others were doing a very bang up job of it elsewhere and because over the years I’ve come to realize I descend a bit too much into detail to be a great teacher (as you’ve no doubt noticed in this series).

        Instead I try to focus on “the beauty of” posts trying to communicate the fascination and awesome beauty of the science and math realms (this SR series just got a little out of hand). I may try a (standalone!) post about trig for Tau day.

        I’ve written about math on a more general, “Gosh! Isn’t this cool!” way before. Did you see my Infinity is Funny post? That’s the thing I’d like to write more of. (Or along the lines of the Square Footage or L26 posts… lots of numbers in those, but hopefully even more fascination. [shrug])

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I’ve heard that my math education could be at fault. That’s probably true to some extent, although I think it’s also true that I don’t have a natural gift for it. But as you say, these things can be overcome. I thought about going through Euclid step-by-step (with my husband), but that was when I had a lot more energy. So I had that plan, a plan to learn how to actually read music (maybe a piano class), work on my novel, take a French class (or Italian), take a nonfiction writing class, read a ton of books. And keep the house clean, work out, and keep up social engagements on top of all that. Well that’s not gonna happen. I’m not sure any of that is gonna happen. Today I figured out a way stitch together Geordie’s old toys to make them into interesting puzzles for him and I answered a few blog comments. That’s kind of where I’m at now. So it’s not your detailed explanations that are the problem, it’s my lack of attention and low energy.

        Putting me in the same category as Mike made me cackle. I think when he says he’s not good at math, he means some advanced thing I’ve never even heard of. When I say it, I mean I’m still counting fingers. Haven’t gotten to the toes yet.

        The distinction between boys and girls and their capacity for math might have some truth, or it might be societal bias or both. I personally have never felt excluded from typically “male” activities. It takes a lot to excel at anything, and I think a lot of times those who do excel just really want to.

        I’m gonna get the feminists coming down on me with this next statement, but I don’t mean it as a generalization, just a personal observation: The boys in my math classes seemed to get it faster than I did. We had exactly the same instruction. I had no fear of math at that point and I had a pretty high self esteem when it came to academics. Of course, after a certain age I came to realize that I was slower, and so that self-identity might have deepened the problem. Who knows.

        I will check out your “infinity is funny” post. I hope you won’t be offended if I pretend to laugh? 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Nah, you don’t have to laugh. As you’ve seen already, infinity is funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha. (Which phrase always reminds me of the one about the cannibal tribe that waylaid a traveling circus. During the big feast, one cannibal turns to his friend and asks, “Say,… does this clown taste funny to you?”)

        “So I had that plan,…”

        What’s that old line: “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” o_O

        I can relate. I was gonna make movies. Oh, well, so it goes, I guess.

        “Today I figured out a way stitch together Geordie’s old toys to make them into interesting puzzles for him”

        Now that’s a day well-spent!

        “Putting me in the same category as Mike made me cackle.”

        You’re both in the handful of people I have explicitly in mind while writing this, but the point is you’re all different in your backgrounds and facility with this. It may have been a bad choice on my part, but I’m trying to write for a very broad audience. Enough basic stuff to be interesting to novices, enough advanced stuff to be interesting to the more experienced.

        They do say “know your audience” when writing (implying to write for a specific audience), so maybe I bit off more than I could chew and missed everyone!

        Ah, well. Part of the whole blog thing in my mind is expressing myself and my work regardless of its success or popularity. If nothing else, there is a certain “dear diary” aspect in documenting the work I did for my own satisfaction back in January.

        As I said to Mike, trying to teach this really helped set it in my mind, so if no one else learned all that much, it was beneficial for me! XD

        “The distinction between boys and girls and their capacity for math might have some truth, or it might be societal bias or both.”

        I think any parent can speak to the apparent hard-wiring boys and girls come with. There does seem masculine and feminine traits, although gender and sex are distinct discussions.

        I’m on the fence myself regarding something like native math ability in someone who wants to learn math but finds it a challenge. Nature or nurture? Is mental ability like physical ability? We don’t really blink an eye at the idea that some are better at physical tasks than others or even that some physical tasks might be forever out of reach of some. Are minds any different?

        Do we implicitly assume people can do anything (mentally) they put their minds to?

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “Does this clown taste funny to you?” LOL! I’ve never heard that one.

        “I can relate. I was gonna make movies. Oh, well, so it goes, I guess.”

        Have you considered doing short videos for your blog? Since you like making movies and you’re so detail oriented, I think you’d be good at it. It helps with the heavier topics. I’d totally be working up some kind of philosophy series with videos right now, but this head buzzing crap has got me running behind on everything I want to do. I had this idea of doing this ridiculous glossing over of major works in five minutes. “Plato’s Republic in five minutes,” “Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in five minutes” etc. Five minutes is obviously not enough time to cover these works, but it might be comical in its brevity. (I’ve decided that for a blog, few people are willing to give more time than that. Plus it will be easier for me to get the technical stuff right if I don’t have some massive thing to deal with.) Maybe I’ll work on it in short increments. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people for whom working in short increments is nearly impossible. I tend to throw myself into something until it’s done…however long it takes. I really need to learn how to schedule my time, though. Boy do I need to learn this.

        I also have plans to read books about what I can teach Geordie. He absolutely loves this toy I made him. (Speaking of obsessions…) After he destroys this toy, I have another which will be slightly more challenging. Once he tears apart the hedgehog, he will find a little drawstring bag with a treat inside. (There’s a treat outside as well, buried in the stuffing, so he won’t feel too frustrated.) He can either chew on the bag and never get the treat out, or he can figure out how to open the bag. (I’ve made it so he doesn’t have to have thumbs to open the bag.) I’m curious to see what he does with it.

        “They do say “know your audience” when writing (implying to write for a specific audience), so maybe I bit off more than I could chew and missed everyone!”

        It’s tricky finding that line. When I first started blogging, I thought I’d have to dumb everything down to get anyone to read. I also had no idea that most of my readers would turn out to be computer folks and teachers. Given that, I’ve learned that I really don’t have to dumb things down. If anything, I should step it up. There are a few topics that some might find over their heads, but that’s okay! Not everything you write is going to click with all of your readers. I think you should write what you would find interesting.

        That said, blogging is a certain kind of platform and we have to respect that people don’t expect to spend hours reading one post. I know I like to try to keep up with certain blogs, and it does take a lot of time to do that. So maybe the key for really dense ideas is to just keep each one short (I think yours are a good length…I tend to err on this) and spread them out a bit. That way people can go back and reread. If you find yourself itching to write, add some easier posts in-between. Mike could follow at your pace, but I couldn’t because I just didn’t have enough time or wherewithal to digest each concept. (Not saying I would given enough time, but time does help.) Another thing I think helps is asking a question at the end to get the conversation rolling, that way you can see where people are at and answer specific questions that will prepare for the next post. I took a TESOL certification course a while back and learned a lot about education in general. The main thing I learned is that people will nod their heads and say they understand when they don’t. Some are embarrassed that they didn’t get it, others think they know when they don’t. One way you can see where everyone is at is to ask a CCQ, a “comprehension check question.” I don’t always come up with these kinds of questions for my blog, but you get the idea. It’s got to be specific, something people can engage with rather than “Did you get it?” I find when I can get the conversation going on a certain post, people comment on the how much they learned from the comments section. (I find it especially exciting when people start talking to each other rather than to me in the comments. It feels like a real life group of people sitting in a room.)

        “I’m on the fence myself regarding something like native math ability in someone who wants to learn math but finds it a challenge. Nature or nurture? Is mental ability like physical ability? We don’t really blink an eye at the idea that some are better at physical tasks than others or even that some physical tasks might be forever out of reach of some. Are minds any different?”

        In my opinion, minds are no different. We find this distasteful, but I’m afraid it’s true. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to do things that run counter to our natural abilities, but we must acknowledge that we are all different, that there is such a thing as nature, and there are limitations.

        “Do we implicitly assume people can do anything (mentally) they put their minds to?”

        We—as in our culture—do. I don’t. Whenever I see ads on PBS or wherever that tell us we can do anything we put our minds to, I can’t help but break out into a melodramatic version of “I believe I can fly…” (and I usually jump off the couch and flap my arms to drive my point into the ground, so to speak). I understand that these ads are trying to be inspiring, but you can still be inspiring within the limits of reality. That’s actually more inspiring.

        When it comes to the whole nature/nurture debate, we’re still in the dark ages as far as the media goes. I find it kind of appalling, to be honest. We are not all equal in everything. I consider that a fact, and not a dismal one. It’s also a fact that women in general are not as physically strong as men in general. It’s also a fact that women and men are different in general, and instead of embracing those differences, we try to show women in powerful masculine roles, sometimes even showing them as equally physically powerful in an unrealistic way. I just wish we as a culture could be a bit more nuanced and accept that nature is real, and that exceptions are exceptions. There are some feminists who might agree with me that this damn near ubiquitous portrayal of women in hyper-masculine roles actually devalues the kind of traits that women typically have. I don’t read up on feminism so I can’t say for sure, but I think this idea is old news. Still, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received that look of, “Shouldn’t you get out there and play ball with the big boys?” when I tell some woman (generally older, in her 60s) that I’m a housewife, which they hear as “kept woman.”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Have you considered doing short videos for your blog?”

        I’ve thought about it… I generally don’t care for “talking head” videos. A lot of it has to do with my hearing deficit, but even when I can hear, talking is such an inefficient way to communicate information.

        Very few speakers can speak without lots of “noise” — some of it literally noise, the various verbal ticks, some of it just redundancy or unnecessary verbiage.

        So I have a bias against that sort of thing. But YouTube is slowly changing my mind about it. I’d definitely want to get some software and hardware to support doing that sort of thing. [shrug] Who knows!

        “I tend to throw myself into something until it’s done…however long it takes.”

        Yeah, likewise. For example, this SR series! 🙂

        “I also have plans to read books about what I can teach Geordie.”

        There’s no question you can help a dog be smarter by challenging it! Early in Sam’s life I deliberately played fast games to sharpen her perceptions. I could see her improvement over time.

        Teaching to catch a ball or a treat was pretty funny at first. Stuff bouncing off a surprised puppy’s face. But she turned out pretty smart. Not super smart, but pretty smart.

        There’s a standard test: put a blanket over a treat and see what happens. The smartest dogs will pick the blanket off the treat. Others will paw at it until they succeed in unearthing the goodie. The dumb ones ultimately give up and take a nap.

        Sam always got the treat — and in fairly short order — but never was smart enough to pick up the blanket. But I’ve never owned a dog that was (sometimes) aware of airplanes. Never seen a dog watch an airplane before!

        The Kong toy is a great toy for dogs. You can put a treat inside (or peanut butter), and watch them get it out. They’re also famously indestructible!

        “I think you should write what you would find interesting.”

        Yeah, that’s pretty much what I end up doing: writing for myself. Whatever else it is, it’s an expression of my art (for whatever that’s worth). I find myself with feet in several worlds (because I have many feet): blogging as personal expression versus blogging as publishing “my work” versus blogging as a form of teaching.

        Those progressively increase the amount of concern I have about reader reaction. Not much point in teaching if no one is absorbing it.

        “So maybe the key for really dense ideas is to just keep each one short…”

        I start feeling the TL;DR pressure once I cross the 1000-word mark. That pressure builds and becomes extreme at the 1500-1600 word mark. By the 2000-word mark I’m feeling like I’m writing a bloated monster.

        I generally shoot for about 1300 words, but it depends on how much I’m trying to tackle and how generally enjoyable and “breezy” the topic might be. I don’t feel as bad about running long about a movie as I do about more complex material.

        I know posting the SR series so many at a time is a lot, but it’s a series one can always go back and read. This is, perhaps, more a case of publishing a small book about SR one chapter at a time.

        “Another thing I think helps is asking a question at the end to get the conversation rolling,”

        Yeah, that’s a common bit of blogger advice, and I see bloggers do it all the time. I makes me feel terribly formulaic when I do it. Still, I’ve tried it and gotten mixed results. It worked okay on the recent pizza post!

        “One way you can see where everyone is at is to ask a CCQ, a “comprehension check question.””

        Yeah, that would be crucial in a real class! I guess I’m just glad anyone is actually reading the SR posts. I’d hate to scare them off with a “pop quiz.” 🙂

        This may be my own bias again… In books, I tend to skip those little question sections at the end of some chapters. (I also tend to find the “here’s what we’ll cover” sections rather tedious, but I’ve had some fun writing those bits on this.)

        Heh. Once again, my tastes are a horrible barometer for judging what other people do well with. :\

        I’m with you: I like a good conversation going in the comments! I’ve come to look at them as a way to continue the post and explore its fine points (and errors).

        “…ads on PBS or wherever that tell us we can do anything we put our minds to…”

        Yeah, I have the same reaction. I get the point, but hate the simplistic way it’s put. I’m not good with certain social lies… the way people say “It’ll be alright” when there’s no basis in fact for such an assertion… drives me crazy when others say it, and those words stick in my own throat. I just can’t say stuff I know is complete bullshit.

        “I just wish we as a culture could be a bit more nuanced and accept that nature is real, and that exceptions are exceptions.”

        I agree completely, and good point about the portrayal of women. I think I’ll leave Feminism as a topic for another day. (I love the topic, but this reply has gotten long, and I could easily double the size going down this road!) Suffice to say we’re on the same page.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “…talking is such an inefficient way to communicate information.”

        Yeah, I agree. I often don’t watch talking head videos for that reason. If there’s a transcript, I just read that. That last one I made was a talking head video, but I’m thinking about doing something a bit different. Not sure what yet. With philosophy it’s a bit harder to find imagery to correspond to the ideas, so I end up with the talking head thing, but who knows…

        “There’s a standard test: put a blanket over a treat and see what happens. The smartest dogs will pick the blanket off the treat. Others will paw at it until they succeed in unearthing the goodie. The dumb ones ultimately give up and take a nap.”

        How can you distinguish between picking up the blanket and scratching the blanket off? Is it just how long it takes? Or is it whether or not they lift the edge with their teeth and pull it back?

        I think I’m gonna have to give this one a try.

        “I’d hate to scare them off with a “pop quiz.” :)”

        Oh definitely no pop quizzes! I just mean if you ask a specific question, you’re more likely to get a response. And yeah, like your pizza post. You get people wondering what combination of ingredients would be universally disgusting—very specific. Imagine if you’d asked, “What’s your take on pizza?” I don’t think many people would be tempted to respond. Or if you ask a specific question about a complicated idea and you get weird answers, that’s a good form of feedback.

        It is formulaic for sure. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I often fall into the error of asking “Did you get it? Any questions?” and that really feels formulaic without serving any purpose.

        “…the way people say “It’ll be alright” when there’s no basis in fact for such an assertion… drives me crazy when others say it, and those words stick in my own throat. I just can’t say stuff I know is complete bullshit.”

        I’m with you there. For me, it’s nails on a chalkboard. However, I think some people like that sort of thing, even when they know it’s bullshit. I have a few friends who just want me to say nonsense things and side with them when they tell me about some problem, but I’m no good at that. It’s that stuck in the throat thing you’re talking about. My solution to this is compromise: They want comforting words, not truth. I want to comfort them, but can’t bring myself to say something I don’t think is true. I used to try to find solutions with these particular friends, but I’ve learned that that backfires with them. They look at me like I’m some kind of monster. So now I try to find something I can say that’s true and comforting (this usually creates an awkward moment though, to be honest, since I’m not very quick) or I just ask for more details so they can get it out, since that’s usually all they really want anyways.

        Speaking of bullshit, it has been philosophically considered:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “With philosophy it’s a bit harder to find imagery to correspond to the ideas,”

        Yeah, I can see that as a problem. (Some posts are really hard to find supporting images for. Some are so hard I’ve been tempted to post a bunch of irrelevant images. I swear, some posts, I spend hours looking for the images I want.)

        My hearing issues make me extra biased against talking as a way of learning anything, but as I said, YouTube is changing my mind. There’s so much really great educational stuff there (and some fun stuff, but I’m kinda meh on the fun stuff).

        For example, I really like the Numberphile and Computerphile channels, but they’re often talking head videos. Even more so for a lot of science and philosophy videos. If the information is good and well presented — that makes a lot of difference, the presenter — the extras aren’t all that crucial.

        (Thinking about it, the philosophy videos do have the hardest time with extra images. You can illustrate metaphors and analogies, but a lot of it seems pretty strictly intellectual and word- or idea-based.)

        “How can you distinguish between picking up the blanket and scratching the blanket off?”

        Picking up, as in with the teeth. Removing the obstacle rather bulling through it. (You can see that would represent a more thoughtful approach.)

        “I just mean if you ask a specific question, you’re more likely to get a response. “

        Yeah, I know… I’m just a contrary person sometimes. I hate doing established stuff (especially in my art). There’s some pig-headed part that wants to do it my way or no way. (And where else do you get to do that but in your own art?)

        The devil is that it’s an established method because it works. [sigh]

        “They want comforting words, not truth.”

        Exactly. I finally learned (albeit late in life) to just shut up and say, “That sucks!” Just agreeing the situation sucks works in a lot of cases, and it’s honest, and sometimes it seems all people really need to hear. Sympathy, support, and agreement. Being heard.

        I’ve heard it said that a key human drive is the need to be heard.

        That said, social life is filled with “white lies” that I, being a precise and honest person, often struggle with. I understand them, but dislike them. They fall in that category of things I (futilely) wish people would stop doing.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        “My hearing issues make me extra biased against talking as a way of learning anything, but as I said, YouTube is changing my mind.”

        It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind as I think about what to do with the videos. I think transcripts are always a good idea, even for those who aren’t hearing impaired (some people check out blogs surreptitiously while in the middle of something, so they read instead of listen). Improving the sound quality is another thing I need to concentrate on in the future.

        As for philosophy and images, my roommate back in college used to pick up my books and joke, “There’s no picture on the cover! How can you read this stuff?”

        Okay, I did the blanket test on Geordie. I think he got a little too excited at first and maybe was kinda pissed that I didn’t just give him the treat. I put it under the blanket and he just started running around in frustration (maybe he thought he’d get in trouble if he tried to get the treat). Then I pulled it out and showed it to him again and said “Get the treat, Geordie!”, then put it back in the hopes that he’d see I was playing a game with him. For a second he started biting through the blanket, then he scratched the blanket off and ate the treat. I went into the other room for a second and when I came back, I saw that he’d flung the blanket around looking for crumbs. Perhaps average intelligence? 🙂 I guess that means Geordie and I are perfectly suited for each other!

        Right now he’s playing with his hedgehog game. I’m curious to see if he’ll figure out the bag inside.

        “That said, social life is filled with “white lies” that I, being a precise and honest person, often struggle with. I understand them, but dislike them. They fall in that category of things I (futilely) wish people would stop doing.”

        I think I inherited my antipathy towards white lies. It’s there in a major way from my father’s side and in his siblings. One particularly cranky aunt of mine once told off a cashier because the girl asked her how she was doing today. “Do you really care how I’m doing today? Really?” She was a real wild card. At the time I was in high school and I thought it was hilarious and bold, but my adult self looks back on that whole episode in embarrassment. That said, it would be nice if the cashier didn’t say, “How are you doing today?” in that tone that belies the words. Or those telemarketers/call center employees who speak like automatons and go through their list of things to say without listening. I often wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just talk to a robot, then I wouldn’t get mad about the lack of real communication: “Thank you for holding, ma’am, I really appreciate that you have chosen X for your X needs…” blah blah blah. Then you tell them your problem and they apologize again in that robot voice, repeat what you’ve just told them, then ask you for some information that’s entirely irrelevant and that you’ve just told a real robot, then they “thank you for that information” and “apologize sincerely that you are experiencing difficulties with x.” Again.

        Wow. Update on the hedgehog—Geordie tore the animal apart, got the bag and figured out how to open it all in the amount of time it took me to write this reply. I missed seeing it! I thought it would take him hours.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I think transcripts are always a good idea,”

        Most definitely agree!

        “Okay, I did the blanket test on Geordie.”

        Sounds like you got the common result (as did I with Sam). Takes a really smart dog to think it through and come up with: Remove the obstruction! (Crows put dogs to shame — they’re scary smart! (The crows, I mean.))

        Another game I used to play with Sam was “Find It!” I’d make her “Stay!” in the bedroom closet while I hid some treats in the living room. Then I’d call her and tell her to “Find It!” It’s fun to watch dogs put their noses to full use! It’s almost like in cartoons when someone follows a scent like it was a rope pulling them towards the wonderful food.

        “That said, it would be nice if the cashier didn’t say, “How are you doing today?” in that tone that belies the words.”

        Yeah, I know what you mean. Having the relationship with words and ideas that I do, it’s taken me most of my life to understand (although I suspect I’ll never appreciate it) that people use phrases like that as meaningless placeholders meant to lubricate social interaction.

        “How’s it going?” is not a question! In fact, in many social circles, the correct answer is another non-question question: “What’s up?”

        Being a bit of a brat, I like to confound those questions by providing detailed at-length answers. It’s fun watching their eyes glaze over, and I like to think I’m providing an important life lesson about pretending to ask questions. 😈

        “Or those telemarketers/call center employees who speak like automatons and go through their list of things to say without listening.”

        Given that those assholes invade my privacy at home and interrupt whatever I’m doing, I figure it’s open season on them, and there is a variety of fun games you can play with telemarketers (which I consider a less honorable profession than “crack whore”).

        (I’m generally of the opinion that, if there is a Hell, it’s worst, most humiliating, painful, terrifying levels are surely reserved for advertising and marketing people. And if there isn’t such a Hell for those miserable excuses for humans there really ought to be.)

        There’s the old fashioned police whistle, although merely pressing your touch tone keys often results in very loud sounds to someone in a call center wearing a headset.

        And old favorite is to express interest, ask them to let you grab a pen, set down the phone and go do something else for 20 minutes or so.

        If you’re feeling aggressive or frustrated, they’re good targets for vitriol — they deserve it anyway. They tend to hang up once you really get going, though.

        A really surgical strike is to draw them out more and more thinking they’re making a sale, but to also get progressively crazier and weirder. See how long you can keep them on the line.

        “Fun with Telemarketing Assholes” … That might make a fun blog post. XD

        “Geordie tore the animal apart, got the bag and figured out how to open it all in the amount of time it took me to write this reply.”

        Never underestimate a dog going after a treat!

        I once left a 50-pound sack of food I’d just bought on top of her crate. I came home to find she’d chewed a hole in the side, freeing an avalanche of food. My dog had a very full belly and a very guilty look when I walked in the door.

        But totally my own fault, so I could only laugh. 😀

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Yeah, telemarketers can be fun to play with. If I get someone who sounds like a real human being, and the Do Not Call list doesn’t apply, I usually just let them down nicely. A lot of them hate their jobs and are just trying to make some money. If I get repeated calls from the same company (or whatever they are) then I start messing with them. My father used to hand over the phone to my mom after telling the person, “Hang on, I’ll hand you over to my wife who makes all the decisions around here.” Then she’d speak to them in Korean with little bits of English to throw them off. They’d eventually hang up on her, but it would take a long time. I think my father actually looked forward to telemarketing calls just so he could get a good laugh at this.

        In high school I wrote a short story about a lonely woman who gets a telemarketing call and she draws in the kid and they start talking about life n’ stuff. Typical high school crap, but I liked the premise. The only thing is (which I hadn’t thought about at the time) “this call is being recorded for quality assurance.” So the premise couldn’t really work out.

        So funny about the food. I can imagine the food raining down through crate. Too bad you didn’t get to see that part.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “My father used to hand over the phone to my mom”

        Ah, one more reason I wish I spoke another language! 😀

        Your short story… these days, one of them would have to be Up To No Good! (Another fun game is (acting like you’re) trying to get them to date you. Or asking what they’re wearing.)

        Sam wasn’t confined to the crate during the day, but free to roam the house. (Something I’ll change if I get another dog. I didn’t know about “crate training” when I got Sam. Wish I had!) The food had spilled down next to her crate — nearly half the bag. I guess she got her fill! 🙂

        I used the old-fashioned method of confining the dog to the kitchen (linoleum floor!) at night and while I was at work. Poor thing really cried the first couple nights, and I don’t blame her a bit. Poor thing, taken from her home and mom and siblings (although most of them had been sold by that time), and then confined to this strange place all alone. I did leave a radio on for her, but that didn’t do much. (A hot water bottle and a ticking clock would have worked better, perhaps.)

        We had some difficulties getting used to each other in those first days. One of my great shames is I let my frustrations get to me and yelled at the poor darling a few times. Wish I could go back and change that. (I’ve never been into striking my dogs… yelling upsets them badly enough!)

        Anyway, next time I’ll use a crate and have the dog in the bedroom with me. Probably right next to the bed so we can see and hear each other.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Yeah, I was thinking about that short story. It sounds like a premise to some bad literotica.

        I might have to try that “So…what’re ya wearing?” line. That might be weird enough to make someone hang up.

        We never crated Skippy, but we did get the crate for Geordie for the period after the rattlesnake bite. He is so well-trained that he’d never do his business in there. He panics if he can’t do his business outside. We eventually took the crate away because he just doesn’t need it.

        Geordie likes to sleep in his little bed beside ours unless we talk too much or take too long turning off the light. Then he’ll go in my office and come back after we’re asleep. (He’s got to get his beauty rest, after all.) 🙂

        Do you still have Sam?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        We tend to think of crating as restricting, but dogs actually dig having a little “cave” of their own. (It depends on the type of crate — I’m talking about the plastic ones with walls that allow a sense of an internal space, not the ones that are basically wire cages.) When Sam and I would play tag in the house, sometimes she’d run into her crate (I actually removed the door unless using it for travel), and I’d always back off — that was her “safe spot.”

        Dogs do sleep more than humans. (Cats, apparently, even more so.)

        No, Sam died in 2004. It wasn’t until last year that I figured out what to do with her ashes. (I posted about it: Sam’s Final Walk As for our life together, you can also read: Sad Day; Perfect Day and Dog Tales: Games. If that’s not enough dog posts, there’s always: Four Days of the Dog! 😀 )

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I hadn’t thought about the cage vs. crate thing. You’re onto something there. I know Geordie likes to hang out under my chair or in the little space between the bed and the wall. He might actually like a crate.

        So sorry to hear about Sam. I’m eager to read your stories about him. As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many dog posts.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Geordie may well love having his own little home! As humans we think of being caged as being “in jail” but to dogs, it’s a den!

        Yeah, her death really rocked me. It came at a time when a lot of things were going pear-shaped in my life, and it was just one more blow to the midsection.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        We tried finding a doggie bed with the little walls, but there only seems to be huge ones for big dogs or small ones that are slightly too small for Geordie. I’m still on the lookout though. He won’t go into tunnels of any sort, so I’m not sure how he’d feel about a crate, but he does like the little walls around him so long as he can see everything that’s going on.

        I can imagine losing all that at once must’ve been so hard. Part of the reason I didn’t want to get another dog was because I didn’t want to go through that loss again. But then to be dealing with so much more on top of that…it must’ve been quite a blow.

        (BTW, your life story in regards to your divorce and loss of Sam is strangely similar to something that happens in my novel.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, one reason I never got another dog was just not feeling up to going through that again.

        (Writing my life story, are you? 🙂 )

      • rung2diotimasladder

        LOL! Well maybe…except this one’s a professor who has a cat named Athena who pees in the toilet. (But, he likes to joke, he can’t ever seem to get her to flush.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ah, clearly not me, then. I would never own a cat! XD

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